With the long-anticipated confirmations of Jimmie Johnson as the full-time driver of Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 48 Honda and David Malukas in the Dale Coyne Racing/HMD Motorsports No. 18 Honda, we’re inches away from crossing the finish line for IndyCar’s silly season.
A.J. Foyt Racing has its two primary drivers signed in Kyle Kirkwood and Dalton Kellett. Andretti Autosport has its four with Colton Herta, Alexander Rossi, Romain Grosjean, and Devlin DeFrancesco. Arrow McLaren SP is locked in with Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist. Chip Ganassi Racing is set with Scott Dixon, Alex Palou, Marcus Ericsson, and Johnson. Dale Coyne is good to go with Takuma Sato and Malukas. Juncos Hollinger Racing is in as the only full-time single-car effort with Callum Ilott. Meyer Shank Racing has doubled in size with Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing is a new threesome with Graham Rahal, Jack Harvey, and Christian Lundgaard. And Team Penske is a more compact version of itself with the trio of Josef Newgarden, Will Power and Scott McLaughlin.
Altogether, that’s 23 season-long entries, not including Ed Carpenter Racing, the one team with major business left to complete in the paddock. ECR moves to pole position in whatever’s left of the silly season with the road and street course vacancy with its No. 20 Chevy; Carpenter recently told RACER he hopes to have this decision made in the coming weeks. Once that decision is made, the silly season comes to an end and we start looking to who goes where in 2023.
It means the race is on to find the best driver for the job who can bring approximately $2.5 million or more to land the seat alongside Rinus VeeKay. Jack Aitken recently tested with team, following Ryan Hunter-Reay’s test, and if either has the sponsorship in hand to deliver to ECR, I’d assume a deal would have been announced. It makes me wonder if Conor Daly might just end up staying in the car with a new group of backers in tow.
With VeeKay and Carpenter+Driver X in place, the full-time grid reaches 25. Despite optimism for it to grow closer to 30, it’s starting to look like grids of 26 or more cars will be reserved for the events where part-time entries appear. Ricardo Juncos says the likelihood of fielding a second car alongside Ilott has waned, with the Indy 500 serving as the only race where JHR might enter two cars.
The Foyt team seemed prime to add a third car for 2022 with the support of ROKIT, but I’ve heard nothing of late to suggest it’s going forward. We know AMSP won’t be using its third entry for more than a part-time program, but it was good to hear that Stoffel Vandoorne impressed the team in his recent test at Sebring.
And so, with the mystery and intrigue of the IndyCar silly season all but over, we start to turn our attention to the next off-season.
Will Johnson return for a second full season in the No. 48 Honda in 2023? I don’t have an answer for you right now, but I can say I’ve had a few smart people in the series suggest it’s where Rossi’s headed once his Andretti contract is fulfilled. Could CGR have other entries in need of a new driver? We know AMSP will have its third seat to fill; could there be more as Felix Rosenqvist enters the last year of his contract and O’Ward jockeys for a McLaren F1 opportunity?
MSR co-owner Mike Shank told me they could go to three cars, so would he need one new driver, or two if four-time Indy 500 winner Castroneves steps back to an Indy-only role? Will Penske have one or more cars in need of new drivers, and despite the big resource drain with its new Porsche LMDh effort, would the team consider returning to four entries if the right driver was available?
Yes, it’s still 2021 and we’re already talking about 2023 because that’s where most of the private conversations have been focused. If Grosjean leaving Coyne for Andretti is considered the big move for 2022, just wait for some of what’s coming in less than 12 months.